Fears over an increase in bribery and corruption in Melbourne and other Australian cities have intensified following newspaper reports of cashed-up property development and construction firms from Asia offering bribes and inducements to City of Melbourne councillors in return for favourable planning treatment for their projects.
Melbourne City Councillor Ken Ong told the Sunday Age he had been offered a big discount on an apartment, which he refused, while another unnamed councillor said he also had been offered inducements.
Ong says he is concerned about the prospect of a ‘sub-culture’ of corruption taking root in Melbourne, especially as enormous volumes of funds from Chinese and other Asian investors pour into the market.
He says that unless the newcomers are adequately informed about government processes, they may end up going through the wrong channels and getting the impression that the way to do business here is the same as that in some other locales.
“If we don’t bring this under control, there will be a sub-culture developing in the investment fraternity, especially from new money coming in from overseas, not just China,” Ong is reported as saying, adding that he always counselled newcomers to work with established and reputable town planning companies and architects who understand and work within the rules.
Investment from China and elsewhere in Asia has been pouring into Melbourne and elsewhere since financing from the United States and Europe has dried up in the post-GFC environment.
Real-estate services firm CBRE Australia estimates that over the past two years, up to 85 per cent of large sites intended for development in Melbourne have been bought by developers from China, Malaysia and Singapore.
In addition, problems associated with bribery and corruption continue to rock the Australian construction industry. One recent high-profile cases relate to allegations that former members of the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) accepted cash in return for facilitating efforts to develop property on the east coast of New South Wales and allegations. In another recent instance, a former building services manager at the University of Technology, Sydney was accused of accepting money in exchange for using his influence to guarantee the awarding of contracts for maintenance and refurbishment work.